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Vancouver Community College is proposing a 3,300-apartment housing complex at its Broadway campus.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

One of the biggest projects proposed for Vancouver’s Broadway Plan – the city’s ambitious effort to add 50,000 new homes along the subway extension now under construction – is a 3,300-apartment development by Vancouver Community College, as it joins other B.C. colleges and technical institutions in a push to build housing.

VCC president Ajay Patel said the college wants to use its Broadway site, which consists of three large blocks at the eastern end of the subway extension, to create affordable housing options for its students and for the city, as well as to generate money for a new academic building.

“We feel this is the right thing. It lines up with our values in delivering relevant education,” he said, adding that it is also a proposal that would “serve our community.”

Mr. Patel is hoping the development will lead the way in a new approach to student housing, one that provides the kind of apartments suitable for its students, whose average age is 35 and more than a quarter of whom are Indigenous.

“We need to look at something different from a dormitory.”

It’s a development the city appears to be poised to welcome.

Vancouver senior planner Matt Shillito, who has been overseeing the Broadway Plan, said via e-mail that the VCC site is one of eight “large and unique sites” in the almost 500 blocks of the newly rezoned corridor that could help provide much needed new housing, public services and job space in the area.

“We’ve had some initial discussions with VCC about their aspirations to redevelop the campus to enhance their academic programs and introduce a broader mix of uses, including housing,” he said. “Once VCC are ready to start, the next step would be for us to seek council approval to begin a planning process to create a new policy statement and master plan for the site.”

The multiple new housing towers at VCC, if built, would dwarf the two towers and 524 apartments planned for the former Mountain Equipment Co-op site further west on Broadway, one of the other major proposals that has been pitched for the corridor.

The community-college proposal is meant to connect with the creative district being developed along Great Northern Way, where the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, the Centre for Digital Media and a number of new tech businesses are located.

VCC’s plan is also the largest housing development put forward by any of the other B.C. postsecondary institutions that have been acting on an NDP promise in 2018 of $450-million to create almost 5,000 new student beds around the province.

Universities – which are seen to have partially contributed to Canada’s housing crisis by bringing in thousands of high-fee-paying, apartment-needing international students to help balance their budgets – have been working intensively across Canada to increase the amount of student housing.

But in B.C., no postsecondary institutions were allowed to take on debt to create housing until 2018. The University of British Columbia was the only one that added housing from 2006 to 2016 because it was able to leverage its endowment fund.

Colleges and technical institutions, and even other universities, didn’t have those kinds of resources.

The 2018 NDP housing initiative allowed all of them to take on that kind of debt, with approval and backing from the province.

Several other institutions have already built new projects or are in the process of doing so. Douglas College, for example, will build a 20-storey, 368-bed tower near the current New Westminster campus with $200-million in provincial money for the $292-million project, which will start construction this summer. It’s part of the work already started to add 2,000 beds in the Lower Mainland.

In Burnaby, at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, a 12-storey mass-timber building is under way that will have 470 beds, some of them reserved for students who come into the city for only a few weeks at a time to complete intensive trades-training programs.

“It will start to relieve student pressure on local markets,” said Lisa Collins, vice-president for students. And, she said, it will also provide a better environment than the scattered and not-always-pleasant basement suites students frequently find themselves in around the campus.

“We hear stories from students about their experiences in off-campus housing and we worry about the impact on student success.”

In Northern B.C., Coast Mountain College has already completed a new 104-bed student-housing building in Terrace, funded with $19-million of provincial money for the $20-million project. It was designed to make its Indigenous students, who come from remote villages and settlements throughout the north and account for more than a quarter of the student population, feel at home. In addition to communal kitchens, there is an apartment for visiting elders, and design elements throughout reflect Indigenous heritage in the region. Students pay $600 a month in rent.

“We all recognized that safe, affordable on-campus housing contributes to student success,” said college president Laurie Waye.

In the Comox Valley, North Island College is about to start on two buildings: one with 20 apartments for family housing and one that is more traditional, with 217 student beds.

Like both Vancouver Community College and Coast Mountain, the college is grappling with a student body that is markedly different from the 20-somethings who dominate university undergraduate programs.

“Our average student is 30. We’re not like a UBC or SFU, so the family housing was really important,” said Christiana Wiens, director of public affairs. “And we have students commuting from Port Alberni, Port Hardy, to classes and then driving back to their family. We’d heard it enough, we decided to do something about that.”

The new housing will provide some priority admission to Indigenous students from the 35 First Nations in the college’s territory.

Ms. Wiens said it has been a learning experience for the college to build housing, something it had never done before.

But, she said, “there was a lot of help and willingness from the province” and local residents raised no objections.

Back in Vancouver, Mr. Patel is hoping the same for Vancouver Community College’s ambitious plans.

He said, so far, the province and city have been extremely supportive. And he’s not expecting the kind of blowback that, for instance, has swirled around the massive housing development planned by a real estate investment trust for the Safeway site next to the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station.

He believes the college’s efforts to hang on to its land, rather than selling to a private developer, and to create a significant number of below-market apartments, will be welcomed by the community.

Vancouver Community College's Broadway campus is seen in Vancouver, on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Darryl Dyck/The Globe and MailDARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail